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Articles by Kathy Knotts

Aquarium names baby loggerhead

No, it’s not Yertle. By popular acclaim, the National Aquarium’s baby loggerhead turtle has been named Sheldon.
    Turtle fans offered more than 20,000 entries during the Aquarium’s competition to name the newcomer. Sheldon joined the Maryland Mountains to the Sea exhibit in December thanks to a partnership with the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores’ Loggerhead Head Start program, which rescues and rehabilitates imperiled hatchlings.
    Each of the five names selected as finalists has a story.
    Boh borrows the nickname of Baltimore’s favorite beer, National Bohemian.
    Two finalists honored notables who died in 2016: Snape for actor Alan Rickman’s Harry Potter villain and Ziggy for singer David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona.
    Kai is Hawaiian for sea.
    Sheldon, alluding to Jim Parson’s character on CBS television’s comedy The Big Bang Theory, won 27 percent of the vote. Ziggy was the runner-up with 22 percent. Snape came in third with 18 percent.
     “We’re so happy Sheldon has found a home at the Aquarium and very pleased that the public was so involved in naming our loggerhead,” said senior aquarist Elizabeth Claus.
     Three other rescue turtles at the Aquarium became Ed, Franklin and Henry, taking names submitted by family and friends in memory of recently lost loved ones.
     Sheldon can look forward to a year of residency at the National Aquarium before being released into the wild.
     Sea turtles, a fundamental link in marine ecosystems, cultivate sea grass beds, helping to maintain their health. They also eat jellyfish.

Now at home in Maryland Zoo

He wasn’t a fish out of water, but just the same, he was not where he should be. The young sandhill crane was discovered in western Maryland, walking down the center lane of a highway and hanging out in a Home Depot parking lot.
    The tall, gray birds with long necks and legs are normally found this time of year in the southern portions of the U.S. and northern Mexico. They are not endangered, and populations thrive in their natural range, sometimes in huge flocks. They are infrequently seen this far east, although Maryland Department of Natural Resources reports that their range is gradually spreading east. Last summer one breeding pair nested in Garrett County. Perhaps they were the parents of this wanderer?
    “Our response team received multiple reports of the crane before we were able to get our hands on him,” says Karina Stonesifer, associate director of Maryland Wildlife and Heritage. “Every time we would get to the site, he’d be gone. We finally met the bird about a week later, and he was pretty funny, coming toward us as if wanting to be acknowledged and then quickly dipping off and running. This was the first time any of us had ever handled this species in the wild.”
    The 18-month-old bird, named Garrett for the county of his discovery, was eventually captured and brought to the Maryland Zoo for medical ­attention.
    Healthy but thin, the bird appeared unafraid of zoo staff, opting to follow them rather than keep his distance. The bird was probably being fed by humans, according to Jen Kottyan, avian collection and conservation manager at the Maryland Zoo. Thus Garrett cannot be released into the wild.        
    The zoo has given him a permanent home in its Maryland Wilderness Marsh Aviary.
    “We have a wide array of native birds in the aviary,” says Kottyan, “and Garrett seems to be settling in nicely.”

National Aquarium adds baby loggerhead to its family

A loggerhead turtle hatchling from North Carolina is now living the good life at the National Aquarium, free from the dangers facing the threatened species.
    While loggerheads are less likely to be hunted for their meat or shells than other sea turtles, they are seriously threatened by bycatch — the accidental capture of marine animals in fishing gear.
    This new addition joined the Maryland Mountains to the Sea exhibit last month thanks to a partnership with the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores’ Loggerhead Head Start Program, which works to rescue and rehabilitate imperiled hatchlings.
    The little loggerhead will live in the exhibit for one year. Once it has met certain growth and health criteria, it will be tagged and released along the North Carolina coast to be followed by satellite.
    “Sea turtles lead a challenging life and we’re so happy to help give them a better chance at survival,” says Beth Claus of the National Aquarium. “We are proud to be a part of this program and hope the story of this baby loggerhead will help carry home our key messages to the public.”
    Only one challenge remains for the perfect ending to this turtle tale: a name for the hero. You can help. Through January 22, you’re invited to submit suggestions to the aquarium staff. Finalists will be chosen and their names put to a public vote. The winning name will be announced February 1.
    Make suggestions at aqua.org/loggerhead. Or join Bay Weekly’s campaign for Yertle, in honor of the Dr. Seuss classic.

Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel rises from endangered to thriving

It’s another win for the wildlife. One of the first animals on the endangered species list, the Delmarva fox squirrel is now a conservation success story.
    Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the squirrel from the list after 48 endangered years. The animal is no longer at risk of extinction thanks to a half century of federal protection and conservation, such as closing hunting and expanding its habitat.
    The fox squirrel’s habitat differs from the home grounds of the more familiar common gray squirrel. Fox squirrels prefer the quiet forests of the Delmarva Peninsula, not suburban or urban areas. With more than 80 percent of the squirrel’s home range on private land, this animal has thrived on the rural, working landscapes of the peninsula, where mature forests mix with agricultural fields.
    Delmarva fox squirrel numbers fell sharply in the mid-20th century when forests were cleared for agriculture, development and timber harvesting. Hunting also contributed to the loss. Today the squirrel’s home range is up from four to 10 counties. Population is as high as 20,000, federal biologists say.
    This silvery gray species is larger than other squirrels, with a wide fluffy tail, short stubby ears and a wider head. The forest-dwellers eat nuts, seeds, acorns and sometimes flowers, fruit, fungi and insects. They spend a lot of time on the ground. Rather than jumping from tree to tree, Delmarva fox squirrels will climb down a tree and travel on the ground to the next tree.
    Keep an eye out for them in places like the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge and the remote forests of Dorchester and Talbot counties. Report your sightings to the Chesapeake Bay Field Office to support the continuing study of our wildlife: fws.gov/chesapeakebay.

Not too cold, please, these penguins beg

Winter is creeping up, leading us through frost to cold to ice and snow. That’s weather that will chill the newest penguin residents of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore as much as it will you and me.
    As African penguins, the newly hatched pair prefers moderate temperatures like those predicted for this week, between about 41 and 68 degrees. So the zoo’s main conservation center building, where they nest comfortably with their parents Mega and Rossi, has controlled temperatures.
    “With African penguins, both the male and the female take turns sitting on the eggs,” said Jen Kottyan, avian collection and conservation manager. “Once the eggs hatch, parents take turns caring for their offspring; they each protect, feed, and keep the chick or chicks warm for two to three days, then switch off.”
    The downy grey juveniles will soon learn how to swim. Then they will slowly meet the rest of the penguin colony.
    The month-old siblings are the first chicks to hatch this breeding season. Penguin chicks spend 38 to 42 days in the egg before hatching. In zoos, keepers monitor development of the eggs by candling them about a week after they are laid to see if they are fertile and developing. The eggs are then reunited with the parents.  The chicks’ parents supply their early diet of regurgitated fish.
    At about three weeks, keepers begin hand rearing chicks to acclimate them to humans as their source of food. 
    The Maryland Zoo has been ­invested in penguins since 1967. Since 2009, African penguins have been endangered in the wild.
    At the zoo, you’ll see the largest African penguin colony in North America, with over 60 birds in the new “highly dynamic” Penguin Coast exhibit.
    Expect a noisy place, as African penguins have loud, braying calls that earn them the nickname jackass penguin.
    You won’t be able to visit these chicks until they’re several months old, but you can follow their growth and development online: ­www.marylandzoo.org; ­www.facebook.com/marylandzoo.

Highway medians become home to the birds, bees, butterflies

The tiniest employees of the Maryland State Highway Administration are hard at work while we sit in traffic. Glance out the window to see them buzzing about their daily routines. In exchange for their work, MSHA provides room and board — in the medians of state highways.
    Important work is happening in these often overlooked parcels of land: over 100 acres along Maryland highways are now wildlife habitat for pollinators.
    Medians along interstates and rural roads — places historically mowed and manicured — are now meadows of wildflowers, native grasses and perennials.
    “If we go back 20 years ago, we looked like golf courses,” says Highway spokesman Charlie Gischlar. Now, the medians provide beauty and habitat while fulfilling their original purpose of creating restful driving conditions and screening out oncoming headlight glare at night.
    In 2008, with the economy tanking and state agencies looking to tighten their budgets, highway planners asked biologists and landscapers for ideas. The Statewide Native Plants Establishment Program was born.
    “This program is a win-win situation between the built and the natural environment,” Gischlar says.
    “We realized we could stop mowing and save money.”
    The number of acres mowed went from 110,684 in 2005 to 51,751 in 2013, saving the cost of rising fuel.
    The second benefit is habitat for birds, bees, butterflies.
    Pollinators help the reproduction of 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants. And, according to the Xerces Society, nuts and seeds feed “25 percent of all birds and of mammals ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears.”
    Habitat loss is one of the top threats to our nation’s pollinators. The loss of bees and butterflies has a direct and dire impact on agriculture.
    “It’s actually pretty scary what’s happening to our honeybee population,” Gischlar says. “Colony collapse is a very serious issue.”
    While scientists study this mysterious disorder, bee populations continue to decline. Without a good mix of native plants, bees miss out on the proper nutrition from a variety of pollens. Restoring meadows with plants like butterfly weed, sunflowers, asters, coreopsis and black-eyed Susans is a vital component to giving honeybee colonies a chance to recover.
    Highway plantings make conditions favorable for these insects by reducing roadside mowing, using insects for vegetation control and creating meadows of nectar and pollen-producing native species.
    Invasive plants edging out the wildflowers that pollinators need are attacked along highways with a careful strategy of mowing and herbicide application. Two of those invasives, Canada thistle and Tree of Heaven, are notorious for choking out the natives.
    Elmer Dengler of Bowie has been following the plight of the monarch butterfly since he was 12 years old.
    “We need more Joe Pye weed and native goldenrods for these butterflies to survive,” Dengler says. “We need to encourage private landowners to work along with the highway departments to promote these native plants.”
    When monarchs find plants, egg-laying remains a risky business, Dengler says, due to a lot of unnecessary mowing.
    Along highways, however, some mowing is necessary “First and foremost,” Gischlar says, we have to maintain sight distance in critical areas, to protect drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.”
    Are efforts to bring back pollinators working?
    The outlook still looks grim, according to Chip Taylor, founder and director of MonarchWatch and an insect ecology professor at the University of Kansas.
    “Unfortunately,” he writes, “as of late July, it appears that the fall migration and the overwintering numbers will be similar to those seen last year. A substantial increase in the number of migrants and the area of the forests in Mexico occupied by overwintering monarchs is highly unlikely. I was expecting much better.”

Saw-whet owls passing through on their annual southern migration

      Hearing something going bump in the night? Perhaps it’s a northern saw-whet owl passing through Chesapeake Country on its annual flight south for winter.
      Volunteers with Project Owlnet hope that’s the case this week as they set out mist nets at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater to try to catch the little raptors.
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Library program aims at preparing young readers

     Long before children can learn their ABCs, they can learn to love reading. Reading early and often improves language and vocabulary skills and helps shape lifelong learners. That’s the aim behind a new early literacy initiative from the Anne Arundel County Public Library.
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SPCA to keep holiday tails wagging
     Lights on the Bay, the annual holiday display at Sandy Point State Park, has a new producer.
     For 22 years, Anne Arundel Medical Center created the two-mile drive-through light show. Now Anne Arundel County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals takes the reins.
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Honoring history’s witnesses

Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky.
–Kahlil Gibran
 
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